New Criticals

Between 1899 and 1904 the German philosopher and biologist Ernst Haeckel published Kunstformen der Natur (Art Forms of Nature), one of his best known works and a symbol of his zoological research and philosophy, centered on the observation of marine micro-organisms as well of various natural species and animals. The complete volume, consisting of over 100 lithographs, each accompanied by a short descriptive text, obtained a great success even among the non-specialist public and among some Art Nouveau artists, committed to finding new models to be used in the nascent industrial design and in architecture. In this regard, the volume lends itself to multiple assessments: as a zoological work depicting the evolution of organisms, as a work of art and as a work of aesthetics that focuses on seeing and perception as a way of knowing. Aesthetics, as the science of beauty, intent on understanding the nature in relation to art.

The tables of the book, according to a geometric arrangement of the drawings, are based upon the microscopic siliceous skeletons of radiolarians and diatoms, the umbrellas of the jellyfishes, the tentacles of sea anemones and spirals shells of molluscs. These illustrations depict the law that regulates natural energy phenomena: the evolution, the fact that organisms are formed and transformed over time, according to genetic relationships of descent, from a common original type. In other words, by analyzing the tables of his rich classification, it is wonderful to see how nature is not only capable of spontaneously creating veritable art forms, but also of establishing a direct connection between a certain algebraic and geometric aesthetics, starting from a fundamental unit/core and reaching a more complex entity, a consequent evolutionary practice of adaptation.